By Mandy Bartok
Perched on 32 degrees north, on the same latitude as Cyprus and Baja California, Miyazaki on the shores of Kyushu Island is blessed with warm sea breezes and a retro and laid back attitude far from the bustle of the major metropolises. Indeed, if you ask the city dwellers of Tokyo and Osaka about Miyazaki, they are more likely to drool about its mango farms, palm trees and pristine beaches. Long before the advent of low cost long distance flights, Miyazaki is known as a sub-tropical honeymoon spot in its heyday in the 1960's and 1970's.
Who would know that just a 300 kilometre drive from the subtropical beaches and mango farms is a ski and snow park, being the southernmost ski run in Japan with natural snow? There are three runs of varying length and skill levels as well as plenty of practice areas for beginners, including a magic carpet. There is also a play area for toboggans too. This is a compact resort that is easy to navigate, making it a good place for beginners and advanced skiers and snowboarders alike. From the bottom of the ski runs you can see the national parks in the distance, though the beaches and palm trees are way over the horizon.
Lunch options here are limited, with just one open cafeteria style eatery. On the other hand, what other ski resort would charge a hot meal from ¥200. While still more than downtown Kumamoto for a streamed hot bun, this staple is deliciously hard to resist. Ramen, curry and other mainstream roadhouse favourites are all available with every dish giving you change from ¥1,500.
Downstairs, there are snow gear, clothes, snowboards, skis and toboggans in most adult and child sizes for hire, using the cash only machines to buy coupons which you use to exchange for the gear. On the other hand they don't rent smaller items such as goggles or socks but you can buy them in various sizes, including goggles that that fit wearers of spectacles. There are small classes too from the friendly staff, though it helps greatly if you can understand Japanese. A great way to end your day here would be to browse at the souvenir store, stocking local delights like Miyazaki mango and chocolate snacks.
The ski season at this resort is from 15 Dec to early March making it a good place to visit for Christmas, and the naturally formed snow powder making it possibly a better option than some of the man-made snow places elsewhere.
Gokase Ski and Snowboard resort is about 100 minutes drive from Kumamoto or Miyazaki cities. You can drive here without snow chains for your car. The car park is below the snowline and you can then take the chairlift to the resort above.
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I knew my future was destined to be with Japan the moment I flew from Sydney to experience the atmospheric lane ways of Kyoto last century. From the skies above Sapporo to the old charm of Naha's alleyways, I have been enchanted by the beauty and variety on every island. I am humbled to have met many distinguished people in my role as Regional Partner, especially the national living treasures of Japan, such as the doll maker to the Imperial Family. From sushi cooking classes to Ninja training grounds I welcome your ideas on what you like from JapanTravel.com. Please visit us in Kyoto or Osaka and have some green tea or sake with us.